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Pacific News Minute: “Arts Blacklist” Part of Scandal That Brought Down S. Korea's President

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Stripped of presidential immunity following her impeachment, South Korea’s former president was questioned by prosecutors in Seoul this week. If convicted of all 13 corruption charges, Park Geun-hye could serve up to 45 years. Two of her aides have also been arrested in connection with a blacklist of nearly 10 thousand artists. More on that, from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.


The key figure in the blacklist scandal is President Park’s former chief of staff. Known as a power broker and king maker, Kim Ki-Choon’s career dates to 1972 when he helped draft a constitution that granted dictatorial powers to President Park’s father, Park Cheung Hee, who practiced strict censorship and suppressed dissidents including artists.


In January, The New York Times reported on a painting by artist Hong Sung-dam that depicted President Park Geun-hye as a scarecrow manipulated by dark forces.  Including her late father, and in the background, Kim Ki-choon.


Hong found himself sued for defamation, excluded from South Korea’s most important arts festival and even received death threats. Retaliation detailed in a diary kept by a now deceased Presidential aide. The diary quotes then Presidential chief of Staff Kim comparing progressive teachers and journalists to “poisonous mushrooms” and issuing instructions to punish artists and satirists. Quote, “make them afraid to challenge the president.”


By 2015, the black list had grown to more than nine thousand, according to the newspaper Hankook Ilbo, and included some of South Korea’s best known writers and film directors. “It’s an honor to be on the list.” Poet Ko Un told the broadcaster SBS, “This shows how disgusting the government is.”


The former Chief of Staff denies the charges and says he doesn’t recall the meeting described in the diary.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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